In so many ways, abortion is like other atrocities that blot the pages of history.
It’s like slavery because it turns certain human beings into the property of others. It’s like the Holocaust because it writes off a whole segment of the population as being “life unworthy of life,” and so sends those human beings to their deaths.
But abortion is also different from those atrocities because it is shrouded in secrecy. Abortion has claimed more lives than both slavery and the Holocaust, yet it continues year after year in America, thriving in obscurity behind closed doors.
Deep down, we know what abortion is, but as a society we’ve chosen to shield our consciences from what we do not see. Ignorance gives us an excuse. Or so we think.
The movie “Unplanned,” which hit theaters last weekend, turns the tables on that ignorance by bringing what is hidden in darkness into the light of day.
“Unplanned” shows abortion for what it really is—the killing of children—and leaves every filmgoer implicated by the truth. The viewer simply cannot unsee the ultrasound picture of a child being snuffed out.
This unveiling of truth makes “Unplanned” a severe threat to American innocence on abortion, which might explain why so many powerful liberals seem to have thrown obstacles in the movie’s path.
Deep down, we know what abortion is, but as a society we’ve chosen to shield our consciences from what we do not see.
First, the film industry gave it an R rating, despite a complete lack of nudity and sex. Then major TV networks refused to accept advertising for the film. And then, last weekend, Twitter mysteriously suspended the film’s account and removed tens of thousands of its followers—only to reverse those decisions after public outcry.
Despite those obstacles, “Unplanned” is surpassing all expectations, ranking No. 4 at the box office on its opening weekend. Americans clearly find the movie compelling—and it absolutely is.
The movie follows the story of Abby Johnson, a Texas woman who went from volunteering at Planned Parenthood on weekends in college to becoming a clinic director. During her time on staff, she helped oversee roughly 22,000 abortions.
(Warning: The following contains some spoilers.)
Johnson’s first exposure to Planned Parenthood came as a college student, when she considered herself pro-life. In one scene in the movie, Johnson, portrayed by Ashley Bratcher, is approached by a Planned Parenthood recruiter on campus.
Johnson initially says no to volunteering, but the recruiter persists—and is charming. She draws Johnson in with the prospect of “helping women” and reducing the number of abortions by distributing contraception.
That bait is enough to reel Johnson into what would become a career in providing abortions.
During those years, Johnson thinks of herself primarily as helping women in need, though she undoubtedly knows what abortion is. One day, when the clinic director takes her behind closed doors to see a dead fetus, Johnson seems completely hardened—almost intrigued by the dead child rather than grieved in any way.
The scene is morally jolting for the viewer, as it shows her callousness to unborn life. But that callousness, admittedly, is mixed with a genuine desire to help women. She sees abortion as a means to that end, even if an ugly means.
One day, for instance, she comes home with blood on her shoes after a day of overseeing abortions. When her daughter asks her about the blood, she lies, and then her husband, who is pro-life, confronts her: “Proud of yourself?” She responds with an air of defiance: “No one ever said abortion was pretty.”
Even here, Johnson seems to acknowledge something morally wrong with abortion. She just thinks it’s ultimately worth it to “help” women.
But that moral calculus comes to a crashing halt when, for the first time, she is called into a Planned Parenthood operating room to help with an ultrasound-guided abortion. The doctor asks her to hold the ultrasound device, and here we see the child on screen—its legs moving to avoid the suction machine, its hands grasping at the uterine wall.
And then, suddenly, the baby is gone.
She is utterly shocked beyond words. Immediately she runs to the restroom and weeps. Agony consumes her as she begins to realize that, for the past eight years, this is what she’s devoted her life to.
In that one raw, divinely appointed moment in the abortion room, she knew she had to get out—and she knew where she could turn.
From there, it’s just a brief matter of time before she quits the abortion business.
This is an ugly moment, but out of it comes beauty. In her moment of deep moral crisis, she knows who she can talk to: the pro-life people. The ones who pray outside her clinic every week, who sought to befriend her, and who encouraged young women arriving for abortions to consider other options.
When she flees Planned Parenthood, the pro-lifers receive her with open arms—no reproach, no condemnation, only grace. Her admission of the truth, gut-wrenching as it is, becomes the foundation for a new path that includes forgiveness, hope, and redemption.
The fact that all of this really happened should come as great encouragement to pro-life Americans, particularly those who engage outside abortion clinics. Their work is slow, and sometimes seemingly hopeless. It took them years of engaging with Johnson before she finally left the abortion industry.
But their faithful work paid off. In that one raw, divinely appointed moment in the abortion room, she knew she had to get out—and she knew where she could turn.
The crucial insight here is that pro-choice Americans are, like all of us, human beings—made in the image of God, endowed with a conscience, and wired to live in relationship.
No doubt, we need a prophetic witness that calls abortion murder, because that’s exactly what it is. But we also must remember that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the spirit of this age.
The people who defend abortion are, like all of us, image-bearers—moral creatures who at some point may reach their moment of crisis, seeing the horror of abortion with new eyes.
When that moment comes, they’ll need people they can turn to. Will we be such a people?